If in the Pick 3 you must pick the winner in three consecutive races, then it stands to reason that in the Pick 4 you must do so in four consecutive races. The wager is one of the most popular on the horse racing betting menu and can usually be found twice a day at nearly every racetrack, once early (typically Races 2 through 5) and once late (the last four races of the day). It almost universally carries a 50 cent minimum to play.
The way you approach a Pick 4 should have a lot to do with the actual sequence of races. Are the four races ones you think will be relatively formful, or are they chaotic affairs sure to produce some high-priced winners and trigger a massive payout? If you think it’s more the former, you’re going to want to keep your ticket thin and emphasize certain combinations for more than the measly 50 cent base. If it’s the latter, you’ll instead want as much coverage as possible in each leg, which likely means you’ll have to play it for close to the minimum.
In either case, it’s almost always good practice to play multiple tickets. You’ll want a main ticket, one that contains all your strongest plays, which you should play for more than the base amount, and perhaps a few backup tickets that incorporate horses in each race that intrigued you but were ultimately left off your main ticket.
For example, imagine you’ve handicapped the four races and have decided you like the 5 and 6 best in Race 1, the 4 in Race 2, the 3, 7, and 8 in Race 3 and the 1 and 5 in Race 4. This will be your main ticket, which you’ll play for a dollar:
Now also imagine you considered using the 3 in Race 1, the 2 and 5 in Race 2, the 1, 2, and 6 in Race 3 and the 8 in Race 4, but for whatever reason they didn’t appeal to you as much as your top selections. To give yourself additional coverage in case these horses win, you’ll want to play the following ‘backup’ tickets, which keep your main horses intact in three of the legs, while drawing from your secondary tier of horses in one of them:
This brings the entirety of your play up to $36, however it gives you your best shot at winning and also ensures your actual opinion of the races is reflected in your betting, while assigning the proper weight to those combinations. This multi-ticket strategy can be applied to every multi-race bet, but seems to have particular value to the Pick 4 because it’s usually not too cost prohibitive to play backup tickets.
Why play it?
Like the Pick 3, the Pick 4 falls in a sort of middle ground of the multi-race bets. With a 50 cent base and a manageable number of races to predict, it can be played affordably while still giving you a reasonably good shot of hitting it, and returns can actually be pretty substantial. Its size and scope also allows bettors to try to crush certain combinations or spread and hunt for longshots in each leg, depending on the sequence.
Anecdotally, however, the Pick 4 doesn’t seem to offer as much value as the other multi-race bets. The reason for this may be twofold: 1. it usually attracts a lot of handle, and thus all combinations are played relatively efficiently, and 2. takeout is generally quite high for the bet. This is by no means a hard and fast rule, rather an observation. What it ostensibly lacks in value, however, it makes up for in its affordability and attainability. Overall, it’s a pretty good bet for the beginner to dip their toes into the water of the longer multi-race bets, as even with an inexpensive ticket you can give yourself a good chance at winning sums of money that occasionally get into the five and six-figure range.